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The ironic part of hearing loss is that we don’t seem to begin appreciating our favorite sounds until after we’ve lost the capacity to clearly hear them. We don’t stop to think about, for instance, how much we enjoy a good conversation with a friend until we have to constantly ask them to repeat themselves.

Whether it’s your favorite Mozart album or the songs of a Bluejay first thing in the morning, your total well being is closely connected to your ability to hear—regardless of whether you realize it or not. And if you wait until after you’ve lost your hearing to come to this recognition, you’re going to expend a good deal of time and effort trying to get it back.

So how can you defend your ability to hear?

Here are 6 ways you could lose your hearing and what you can do about it.

1. Genetics and aging

Age-related hearing loss, also called presbycusis, is the loss of hearing that progressively takes place as we get older. Along with presbycusis, there is also some evidence indicating that genetics plays a role, and that some of us are more prone to hearing loss than others.

While there’s not much you can do to slow down the process of getting older or tweak your genetics, you can avoid noise-induced hearing loss from the other sources described below. And keep in mind that age-related hearing loss is considerably more complicated to treat if aggravated by avoidable damage.

2. Traveling

Persistent exposure to sound levels above 85 decibels can result in permanent hearing loss, which is not-so-good news if you happen to drive a convertible. New research indicates that driving a convertible with the top down at excessive speeds produces an average sound level of 90 decibels. Motorcyclists face even louder sounds and those who ride the subway are at risk as well.

So does everyone either have to abandon travel or live with permanent earplugs? Not quite, but you should look for ways to limit your collective noise exposure during travel. If you drive a convertible, roll up your windows and drive a little slower; if you own a motorcycle, wear a helmet and think about earplugs; and if you ride the subway, think about buying noise-canceling headphones.

3. Going to work

As reported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 22 million people in the US are subjected to potentially hazardous noise volumes at work. The highest risk jobs are in manufacturing, farming, construction, the military, and the music industry.

The last thing you want is to spend your entire work life accumulating hearing loss that will keep you from taking pleasure in your retirement. Talk with your manager about its hearing protection plan, and if they do not have one, get in touch with your local hearing specialist for personalized solutions.

4. Taking drugs and smoking

Smoking interferes with blood flow, among other things, which could increase your risk of developing hearing loss—if you really required another reason to stop smoking. Antibiotics, potent pain medications, and a significant number of other drugs are “ototoxic,” or toxic to the cells of hearing. In fact, there are more than 200 known ototoxic medications.

The bottom line: try to avoid taking ototoxic drugs or medications unless absolutely necessary. Consult with your doctor if you have any questions.

5. Listening to music

85 is turning out to be quite an inconvenient number. All of our favorite activities generate decibel levels just above this limit, and anything over 85 decibels can result in hearing loss. If the limit were just a little higher, say 100 decibels, we wouldn’t have to worry about it so much.

But 85 it is. And portable music players at full volume get to more than 100 decibels while rock shows reach more than 110. The solution is simple: turn down your iPod, wear earplugs at concerts, and reduce your length of exposure to the music.

6. Getting sick or injured

Certain ailments, such as diabetes, together with any traumatic head injuries, places you at greater risk of developing hearing loss. If you have diabetes, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and consistent monitoring of glucose levels is critical. And if you ride a motorcycle, wearing a helmet will help protect against traumatic head injuries.

Talk to Your Hearing Specialist

While there are numerous ways to lose your hearing, a few easy lifestyle alterations can help you conserve your hearing for life. Remember: the small hassle of wearing custom earplugs, driving with the windows up, or turning down your iPod are insignificant in comparison to the substantial inconvenience of hearing loss later in life.

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